Lee Balkwell 33 years: 1969 to 2002
Lee Balkwell was a 33-year-old man from an East London family who lost his life in mysterious circumstances the night of 17/18 July 2002, at Baldwins Farm, South Ockendon, Essex.
The now-discredited Home Office pathologist Dr Michael John Heath was chosen by senior Essex Police Officers to carry out the post-mortems. Vital evidence were ‘lost’ or destroyed on the orders of senior Police Officers during that all-important first 48 hours, sometimes called the ‘Golden Period’.
The police version has always been that Lee lost his life whilst inexplicably crawling out of a 14-inch-wide inspection hatch of a revolving mixer drum in pitch black at 1.00am, having, it was said, been drilling out hardening concrete in the drum for close on six hours. After a few months carrying out his own investigations, father Les Balkwell reached a very different conclusion: that his son had been murdered at around midnight and that his body had been placed in the cement mixer to make his death look like a ‘tragic accident’.
This is a summary of some of the extraordinary developments in the case :
- None of those at the scene of Lee’s death were interviewed for the first 19 days
- Within five weeks Senior Investigating Officer Graeme Bull had filed a report with the Crown Prosecution Service saying that all the evidence showed this was a ‘tragic accident’. CPS Senior Prosecutor Christopher McCann agreed, and the police began to prepare the case for an inquest, hoping for an ‘accidental death’ verdict
- After Les Balkwell raised questions about what happened to his son’s clothing in early 2003, Essex Police Head of Crime Steve Reynolds tasked two senior officers, Simon Coxall and Peter Hood, with carrying out a review. The review meandered for three years with no inquest being arranged. Steve Reynolds was later promoted to a senior post with the Independent Police Complaints Commission
- Les Balkwell complained to the Police Complaints Authority in 2003, but they appointed Peter Hood to ‘investigate’ the actions of police. Unsurprisingly, he cleared all his fellow officers, apart from mild rebukes handed out to three officers
- After Les Balkwell published a website in July 2006 which gave evidence as to why his son was murdered, Essex Police swiftly brought in another senior reviewing officer, Keith Garnish. That was also ineffective
- Two attempts to hold an inquest in 2007 failed, the first time because Essex Police appointed a corrupt Coroner’s Assistant who was discovered to be planning to ensure an ‘accidental dearth’ verdict at the inquest, the second because Essex Police failed to inform the Coroner until two days before the inquest that a key witness had been extradited to Germany five weeks previously and would therefore be unavailable for the inquest
- An inquest jury of 10 in February 2008 unanimously held that Lee Balkwell was ‘unlawfully killed by gross negligence/manslaughter’. The Coroner had ruled that she would not allow the jury to bring in a homicide verdict, despite Les Balkwell’s barrister submitting that there was ‘overwhelming circumstantial evidence’ that Lee had been murdered